Parents Talk Back by Aisha Sultan

An Old-School Punishment -- With a Twist


One of the boys had done it again: run upstairs and slammed the bedroom door behind him.

Parents Kenny and Sam Evers decided this was enough. They were tired of reminding their sons Zach, 11, and Tyler, 9, to stop making so much noise with that door.

So Kenny calmly walked upstairs and took the door off the hinges. He and Sam had threatened to do it before, but their words clearly hadn’t sunk in. Their older son, Gavin, 13, never had a problem closing his bedroom door quietly, but the slamming had become a habit with the younger boys, and it often woke the toddler, Bella.

Initially, Zach shrugged off the missing door.

“Oh, I don’t care,” he said to his father.

A couple of days later, he told his dad that it was kind of annoying not to have a door.

“I bet,” Kenny said. “Do you want it back?”

“Nope,” his son replied.

A couple of more days passed, and Zach came back with another request: “Can I put up a sheet where my door was?”

“Well, you can’t slam a sheet, so go ahead,” said Kenny.

Within a few more days, the boys had had enough: “Can we please have the door back? We will never slam it again.”

The door went back up a couple of months ago, and the lesson seems to have stuck, their parents say. It’s a punishment that’s been around for generations, and many parents swear by its effectiveness.

I reached out to Katherine Reynolds Lewis, parent educator and author of “The Good News About Bad Behavior: Why Kids Are Less Disciplined Than Ever -- And What to Do About It,” to get her take on this approach. Reynolds asked me to consider the purpose of discipline. The goal is not just to make kids behave, she said, but to make them active participants in how to get along and live considerately with others.

She cited the “four R’s” that can transform punishment into learning: The consequence should be 1. Related to the action, 2. Revealed in advance, 3. Reasonable in scope and 4. Respectfully delivered.

In this particular case, she suggested the parents could have implemented this approach by asking the children to brainstorm ways to help them remember to stop slamming the door and what possible consequences would be.

“Does anyone have an idea on how to have less door-slamming?” she suggested. “When (children) have a voice and buy in, they see themselves as actors with responsibility ... and that is the goal we want,” Reynolds said.

Some kids will simply respond they will “try harder” to make whatever changes the parent wants. That’s not a good enough answer, Reynolds said. The parent should help the child break down what “trying harder” looks like in action -- small, concrete steps. She advocates “a total change in mindset” about punishment that moves from fixing one problematic behavior to building lifelong social skills through collaboration.

“It’s not that the (punishment) is necessarily bad,” she said. “It’s how you arrive at it.”

This sounds great in theory, and is the type of parenting I aspire to. But sometimes you’re exhausted and just need the door to stop slamming. I get that, too.

It was the Evers’ next move that took the traditional door-off-the-hinges punishment to another level. About an hour after the door was removed, Sam had an idea. They put the door on the coffee table, and she and her husband re-created the lifeboat scene from “Titanic.”

“You can see Zach in the background (of the picture) with a look on his face, ‘That’s our door,’” she said. They also re-created scenes from “Monsters, Inc.,” “Frozen” and “The Parent Trap,” with the door as the pivotal prop.

Even the two who had just lost their door privileges eventually got into the re-enactments, she said. Tyler ran upstairs to bring his father a robe to borrow for the “Monsters, Inc.” scene.

A week later, he closed the door behind him.